Diriyah: A fragile but ‘enduring reminder of the frontiers of the possible’

British author Robert Lacey likened Diriyah to “a sand-blown Pompeii,” describing it as “an enduring reminder of the frontiers of the possible.” (Supplied)
British author Robert Lacey likened Diriyah to “a sand-blown Pompeii,” describing it as “an enduring reminder of the frontiers of the possible.” (Supplied)
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Updated 22 September 2021

Diriyah: A fragile but ‘enduring reminder of the frontiers of the possible’

British author Robert Lacey likened Diriyah to “a sand-blown Pompeii,” describing it as “an enduring reminder of the frontiers of the possible.” (Supplied)

NEW YORK: Architect May Shaer marvels at the fact that Diriyah has endured for 250 years. Could this be because for centuries the ruins remained tucked away in the narrow Wadi Hanifah valley and so were spared the destructive effects of human interference?

Perhaps the harsh climate treated this oasis of mud-brick houses and ramparts a little more kindly than other historic heritage sites in the desert? Or are the ancient mud-brick building methods — that caused little or no harm to the environment and worked in harmony with the natural capacities of local ecology — more resilient that modern architectural technologies?

“It is not that often that you find a remaining example of a complete homogeneous urban settlement that prospered in a desert environment. In that sense, Diriyah is extremely rare,” said Shaer, who is the head of the Arab States Unit at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Center.

The ruins of the old city, which consist almost entirely of adobe, or mud-brick, structures, lie on either side of Wadi Hanifah, a narrow valley that runs south toward Riyadh and beyond. After their city was destroyed by the invading Ottoman army in 1818, the inhabitants of Diriyah moved to Riyadh, leaving behind the remnants of their former capital.

British author Robert Lacey likened Diriyah to “a sand-blown Pompeii,” describing it as “an enduring reminder of the frontiers of the possible.” It is divided into three districts, built atop the hills overlooking the valley. At-Turaif, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the highest promontory of the three and the lower reaches are easily accessible on foot.

The city lay abandoned for more than a century before families began to trickle back in in the mid-1900s and build new mud-brick homes.

“Despite it being originally built with adobe, a very delicate material that needs constant maintenance and protection, the whole ensemble has retained more or less its original urban form, its structural integrity,” said Shaer.

To earn a place on the World Heritage List, she explained, sites must include enough remains to illustrate their history and “physically be able to explain their importance.”

“With most of (Diriyah’s) components still in place, you can read the plan,” she said. “You can understand how people lived here; how they interacted with, and built for, their environment. Diriyah tells the whole story.”

The addition of a site to the World Heritage List is recognition of its outstanding universal importance and value to the world. So what exactly does At-Turaif offer humanity at large? What can the rest of the world learn from its story?

“First, the citadel of At-Turaif represents a diversified and fortified urban ensemble, comprising many palaces within an oasis,” explains Shaer. “It is an outstanding example of the Najdi architectural and decorative style, which only developed in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula.

“Along with its remarkable sense of geometrical decoration, At-Turaif bears witness to a building method that adapted to its environment, using adobe in major palatial complexes.”

It is the story, then, of a people constantly at odds with hostile forces of nature, who made use of one of the few readily available resources, mud, in an original and innovative way to cope with the extreme desert climate and create comfortable living conditions. This ingenious tradition of building with mud bricks also utilized other local natural resources that were easy to find, including limestone for foundations, and wood from palm trees. The Najdi architects also made use of clay-mud rendering, stone columns, and wooden lintels painted with geometric motifs.

The traditional characteristics of Najdi towns include a dense urban fabric, narrow streets, and buildings that feature an inner courtyard and thick walls to naturally regulate temperature.

“This whole, complete structure (of Diriyah) reflects life in a desert environment, one that has managed to exist because of the natural aspect of the land, which allowed people to settle in the area,” said Shaer.

“It is a settlement within an oasis, and oases are always very special places because they provide water, life and some kind of biodiversity.”

According to the case that was presented to UNESCO when At-Turaif was nominated as a World Heritage Site, the lattice of dry valleys in the area was carved out during wetter geological periods. As a result, water tables survived permanently in the ground under some of these valleys, which could be utilized by digging wells.

“Wadi Hanifah is one of the rare places where there used to be enough rainfall to sustain some form of agriculture, especially palm groves and irrigated oasis agriculture,” said Shaer. “At the same time, people dug wells to extract ground water. They used animals, camels and horses, to transport the water.”

Another factor in the site’s favor is its historical authenticity, thanks to its relatively undisturbed urban and architectural treasures.

“The initial planning is well preserved and can be clearly observed in its road network, and the place has not been subject to excessively aggressive development,” explained Shaer.

In addition to its wonderful urban coherence, At-Turaif’s social, political, spiritual and religious functions developed simultaneously and organically alongside its physical growth.

“This was also recognized by the World Heritage Committee as matching one of the conditions for the inscription on its list,” said Shaer.

One of UNESCO’s criteria for World Heritage status is that a site needs to be “directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.”

The significance of At-Turaif is directly related to the founding in Diriyah of the First Saudi State in 1744, at the heart of the Arabian peninsula, and its subsequent development.

Now, more than a decade after At-Turaif was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this birthplace of what became, almost two centuries later, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is an increasingly popular major tourist attraction.

Visitors can stroll among the remains of the old mud-brick buildings, families can picnic under date palms as children play on the paths that snake between modern conveniences such as restaurants and coffee shops.

The admirably ambitious goal of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority is to transform this historic attraction into “one of the world’s lifestyle destinations for culture and heritage, hospitality, retail and education.”

“It is good to see Diriyah open up for tourists,” said Shaer. “Visitors come here to learn and understand history, our past. Culture can bring people together. Diriyah reminds us of all the things we humans have in common.”

But in a world where many sites of historical importance are exposed to potential hazards, whether accidental, deliberate or as a result of natural disasters, tourists have a crucial role to play in ensuring that Diriyah survives and thrives for future generations to admire and enjoy. They need to learn the importance of conservation and efforts to protect and preserve historic sites, said Shaer.

“In the end, these sites are fragile,” she added. “Diriyah is fragile and we need to take care of it — all of us.”

She said that the responsibility for the protection of World Heritage sites does not lie solely with the authorities in the countries where they are located.

“We all have this responsibility, on so many levels; it is a collective responsibility,” she added. “The World Heritage Convention was created just for that. Its very raison d’etre is the collective responsibility of the international community to ensure the protection and conservation of sites that are important for all of us and, most crucially, for the future generations.

“Because we humans have a pressing need to understand our past, cultural heritage is part of our universal human identity. So, sites are inscribed as (part of the) world heritage precisely so they can be conserved and protected.”

Perhaps no one is more excited about the return to prominence of Diriyah than Saudis themselves, especially young people. When the Diriyah Gate Development Authority launched the recent Rawi Al-Diriyah (Diriyah’s storyteller) competition to encourage students to learn about the Kingdom’s ancient storytelling tradition, more than 250,000 middle-school and high-school students registered for the contest, and more than 12,000 entries were submitted.

“Such initiatives are very important,” said Shaer. “When you have these kind of intangible, cultural heritage-awareness activities, or even creative cultural activities that can be connected to a physical place, it helps people to understand why this site was important.

“This helps strengthen the connection with the place as it gives people the opportunity to integrate the intangible values with the tangible aspect of the place. You can identify with it and understand more why you want to preserve it for future generations, for your children and grandchildren. It can play a positive role in your life.”

Diriyah, past, present and future
On Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, the birthplace of the Kingdom continues to make history

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Saudi tourism body opens Japan bureau alongside the Discover the World project

Saudi tourism body opens Japan bureau alongside the Discover the World project
Updated 19 October 2021

Saudi tourism body opens Japan bureau alongside the Discover the World project

Saudi tourism body opens Japan bureau alongside the Discover the World project
  • Saudi Arabian Government Tourism Bureau has presence at 11 locations in 21 countries

TOKYO: Saudi Arabian Government Tourism Bureau (STA) set up a Japan branch in Tokyo with the travel project company Discover the World, Japanese magazine Travel Vision reported.

STA currently has tourism promotion bureaus at 11 locations in 21 countries and aims to set up additional four bureaus in the future, it said. 

“We organized a global professional team to introduce to visitors a variety of cultural experiences, world-class historical heritage, and Arab’s authentic hospitality,” STA CEO Fahad Hamiraddin said in a magazine interview.

Shigehiko Okuda will assume the post as Japan bureau chief in charge of sales and marketing activities for tourism and general consumers.

Saudi Arabia has recently lifted the ban on tourism visas against 49 countries, including Japan, but resumed providing tourist visas for only those vaccinated against COVID-19.

This story originally appeared in Arab News Japan


Who’s Who: Hamad Al-Saghir, chief marketing and customer experience officer at NeoLeap

Who’s Who: Hamad Al-Saghir, chief marketing and customer experience officer at NeoLeap
Updated 19 October 2021

Who’s Who: Hamad Al-Saghir, chief marketing and customer experience officer at NeoLeap

Who’s Who: Hamad Al-Saghir, chief marketing and customer experience officer at NeoLeap

Hamad Al-Saghir has been the chief marketing and customer experience officer at NeoLeap since May 2021.
With the vision to be the Kingdom’s leading payment solutions service provider, NeoLeap is a licensed financial global digital solutions company, whose values revolve around inventiveness, simplicity and trust. It has recently described the Saudi market as large and promising. It has also announced that it has plans to operate beyond the borders in the near future.
With over 20 years of experience in the information and communication technology sector, strategic planning, revenue growth and organization development, Al-Saghir has successfully managed complex national ICT projects across Saudi Arabia.
As a decisive leader and member of the ICT committee at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he is focused on delivering practical outcomes that impact stakeholders across the ICT ecosystem in the country.
Prior to joining NeoLeap, Al-Saghir served for more than three years as the general manager of the business unit at Zain KSA.
He was responsible for the business-to-business unit with over 300 employees and revenue of over SR1 billion. He was also part of the executive team to develop a five-year B2B strategy and won the company’s “outstanding performance” award in 2018.
For nearly a year before that, he worked as the general manager at the International Data Corporation, the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets. 
At IDC, Al-Saghir led a team of over 50 employees and reported directly to the MEA vice president.
Previously, he was the senior service sales manager at Cisco for about 11 years, beginning in 2006. There, he managed end-to-end customer experience lifecycle processes, led the development of cross-functional Cisco services team, and built trusted relationships with key public and private sector entities within Saudi Arabia.
The company selected him for the “sales champion” and the “top service manager of the year” awards in 2010.
For around two years, beginning in 2004, he was the sales and business alliance director at STC, where he built turnkey partnerships with global service providers and IT vendors.  
From 1999 to 2005, he served as the business alliance manager at Ebttikar Technology Co.
He also worked as the national sales and marketing manager at Al-Faisaliah Group, where he succeeded to achieve a sales target of SR50 million while leading the company’s sales and marketing teams.
Al-Saghir received a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1999 from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.
He also attended a sales management program at the University of Toledo, Ohio, US.


Saudi Interior Ministry’s hi-tech feats shine at Dubai GITEX Technology Week

Saudi Interior Ministry’s hi-tech feats shine at Dubai GITEX Technology Week
Updated 19 October 2021

Saudi Interior Ministry’s hi-tech feats shine at Dubai GITEX Technology Week

Saudi Interior Ministry’s hi-tech feats shine at Dubai GITEX Technology Week

DUBAI: Prince Dr. Bandar bin Abdullah bin Mishari, assistant minister of interior for technology affairs, expressed his pride in the ministry’s successes through its presence at Dubai GITEX Technology Week for the seventh year in a row. 
Prince Bandar made the remarks as he visited the ministry’s pavilion.
The ministry is participating in this year’s event under the slogan “Technical Solutions for a Safe Homeland.”
The topics covered are: Digital enablers and their role in governance to serve customers, ministry services for pilgrims, dealing with events, crises and work procedures, the future of services and security operations, and the role of modern technology in combating crime and making cities safer.
They also include the optimal use of technology through the Absher app, which allows people in the Kingdom to use a variety of government services, to help ministry staff manage resources and digitally implement internal procedures and support services for employees and the ministry’s community.
The ministry’s role in preserving the environment and its initiatives in the field of innovation are also being highlighted at the pavilion, with the topics and issues presented in interactive ways. 
The aim is to highlight the ministry’s achievements in light of the Saudi Vision 2030.
Prince Bandar toured the pavilion and was briefed on the electronic services and apps provided by the bodies and sectors participating in the pavilion, which is next to the pavilion of the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
It comes in light of enhancing the presence of government agencies in the coming years, showing them all as an interconnected digital system in the exhibition.
This helps to highlight the level of digital maturity and harmony between all Saudi government agencies to visitors.


King Salman Center for Disability Research, Boeing to launch disability awareness program

King Salman Center for Disability Research, Boeing to launch disability awareness program
Updated 19 October 2021

King Salman Center for Disability Research, Boeing to launch disability awareness program

King Salman Center for Disability Research, Boeing to launch disability awareness program
  • Technology, education to inject affected individuals into society

RIYADH: In partnership with Boeing, the King Salman Center for Disability Research launched the Prince Sultan bin Salman Program for Education and Awareness on Thursday, which targets individuals, families, school peers, work colleagues, and spouses who live with disabilities.
The center is based on establishing the best scientific apps and programs to address disability, identify causes, allow early detection and intervention, and use research to aid prevention, care, and rehabilitation, and work to alleviate suffering and improve the conditions of individuals with disabilities.
At the outset, Prince Sultan, chairman of the board of trustees at the center, welcomed Sir Michael Arthur, president of Boeing International, and members of his delegation led by Ahmed Jazzar, president of Boeing Saudi Arabia.
Sir Arthur expressed his pleasure in seeing Boeing’s partnership with the center, which began in 2011, flourish with the launch of the program.
Prince Sultan said: “The program aims to spread awareness and educate the community, whether in educational institutions, workplaces, or public establishments, by providing specialized content on each category of disability and educating members of the community about the types of disability and its causes as well as how to deal with them and bridge the gap between individuals with disabilities and society.”

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Sir Michael affirmed Boeing’s commitment to Saudi Arabia’s vision and the myriad programs the country is currently developing and implementing for a sustainable and bright future ahead.

On Boeing working together with the center for the program, Prince Sultan told Arab News: “Boeing has been a partner with us for the last several years, this program is a continuation of a series of programs. This one is more about awareness, there is a lot more to come in future. Boeing is a partner that we are very proud of, and we are looking forward to further enhancing our partnership.
“It’s really important to have a partner like Boeing that can support us, help us with some of the major goals on education and awareness. So today here it’s a big privilege, because it’s an exposure that cements our relationship and moves us forward,” he added.
Sir Michael affirmed Boeing’s commitment to Saudi Arabia’s vision and the myriad programs the country is currently developing and implementing for a sustainable and bright future ahead.
“What we are witnessing today is great commitment by the Saudi leadership to raise awareness for disability research and education.” Sir Michael told Arab News, adding: “This program will prove highly beneficial for the Saudi community, and we are proud to partner with KSCDR on such influential programs.
“Boeing has been a partner with the Kingdom for over 76 years. We like to work closely with the communities where we are established. So, we are privileged to work with KSCDR because disability is such a challenge in society and if we can help with our technological contribution and on the education awareness front to help bring affected individuals into the mainstream of the society, it will be great. So we are very excited about the future of this program.”
The event concluded with Prince Sultan presenting a commemorative gift on behalf of himself and the center’s staff to Sir Michael.


Jeddah heritage jewel takes center stage for Red Sea Film Festival

Jeddah heritage jewel takes center stage for Red Sea Film Festival
Updated 19 October 2021

Jeddah heritage jewel takes center stage for Red Sea Film Festival

Jeddah heritage jewel takes center stage for Red Sea Film Festival
  • The festival aims to support and encourage the growth of the local film community

JEDDAH: Jeddah will set the world stage for the 3rd annual Red Sea Film Festival in its iconic UNESCO Heritage Site, a city with a historical thriving cultural scene.
Jeddah, the western port city, known as the “Bride of the Red Sea,” has always been a hub of diversity and inclusivity. It is a city where world cultures merge to create a unique intersection between East and West, showcasing a continuously developing identity of multiculturalism.
The Red Sea International Film Festival is an annual festival held in Saudi’s most evocative historical quarter — Jeddah Old Town — maintained to preserve the city’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity.
The film festival aims to highlight Jeddah’s cinematic presence since the 1970s and promote cross-cultural exchange while fostering the growth of the Arab film industry, positioning Saudi Arabia as a significant contributor to the international film industry.
Running from Dec. 6-15, 2021, it will support and encourage the growth of the local film community through cultivating film appreciation and enhancing industry knowledge to contribute to the development of the film industry in Saudi Arabia.
“Calling Jeddah Old Town, otherwise known as ‘Al-Balad’, our home for the Red Sea International Film Festival is really significant and means a lot to us. ‘Al-Balad’ traces back to our roots in the Kingdom, it is the jewel of Jeddah city that melds the historic with the modern in perfect harmony. It is a true honor having this UNESCO world heritage site be the hub for the region’s largest film festival that will put the Kingdom on the map of the global film stage,” said Mohammed Al-Turki, Chairman of the Festival Committee.
The festival will showcase the best films from the region and an exclusive viewing of a carefully curated selection of internationally acclaimed titles worldwide.
The festival serves as the best opportunity for Saudi youth to discover global cultures through the power of cinema and contribute to the ever-growing Saudi film industry.
As part of a community program to educate Saudi film enthusiasts on acting, directing, and producing, the Festival also launched film screenings and masterclasses.
RIFF is an opportunity to showcase the Kingdom’s attractions and offer a better understanding of the region, its culture, and its people by inviting the global community to experience the true Saudi Arabia. The Festival’s enriching cultural experience will enable guests to discover Saudi Arabia, the gracious and generous Arabian hospitality, the deep history and rich culture, the diverse and unique landscapes, and witness the positive changes happening in the country.